It has been a busy week in Michigan education news. Here are some of the more noteworthy developments:
DETROIT TEACHER CONTRACT
The Financial Review Commission has approved the new 6-month contract with teachers in the Detroit Public Schools Community District ("DPSCD"). Therefore, unless there is legal action to stop the deal, the contract will take effect, retroactive to July 2016.
Will anyone try to stop the contract? Perhaps. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) has complained that DPSCD transition manager Steven Rhodes exceeded his statutory authority by negotiating and entering into the contract with Detroit's teachers. It's true that MCL 380.12b(3) prohibits Rhodes from negotiating and entering into a collective bargaining agreement that would bind the new DPSCD elected school board. It's also true that the terms of the contract will be subject to renewal by the new school board. Barring such renewal, however, it appears that the approved agreement will expire on January 1, 2017, making it permissible under the statutory provision.
NEW "RIGHT TO LITERACY" LAWSUIT
A lot of people are talking about the new federal lawsuit filed by California law firm Public Counsel, alleging that Detroit's children have a fundamental constitutional right to literacy. I have previously written about the suit here. I won't repeat what I have already said, but I do have a couple of observations:
1. While the lawsuit certainly raises important issues and shines the light on the deplorable conditions existing in many of Detroit's schools, several of the people and organizations behind the suit support increased standardized testing, linking teacher evaluations and compensation to pupil test scores, and tenure reform. Remember that appearances can be deceiving.
2. Foundation-funded groups like Public Counsel have money and influence. They can recruit well known co-counsel, hold glitzy press conferences, and spend money to spin their legal arguments as novel and revolutionary. It's all about optics. In truth, many very similar claims have already been raised in the federal civil-rights lawsuit filed on behalf of the sitting Detroit Public Schools school board in exile — just using different plaintiffs. Similar claims were also raised in previous state-court litigation. There's really nothing novel in Public Counsel's complaint.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEE STRIKES
State Representative Gary Glenn (R-Midland) has introduced HB 5858, which would significantly expand the definition of "strike" in Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act. Under the ridiculously broad language of § 1(j), any "willful absence" from an employee's position — regardless of reason or duration — would constitute a "strike." Thus, as I have half-jokingly (but also half-seriously) asserted, a teacher who briefly leaves his or her classroom during the school day to take a phone call or go to the bathroom would probably be engaging in an illegal "strike" under Glenn's bill.
State Representative Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston) and several of his GOP colleagues have introduced HB 5868, which would lower the number of college credits required to work as a substitute teacher from 90 to 60. The bill would also permit any person with an associate's degree to work as a substitute teacher.
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION LBGTQ GUIDELINES
Michigan's State Board of Education has voted 6-2 to approve a set of voluntary guidelines designed to "assist schools in creating school environments where LGBT students can live, learn and thrive." Among other things, the guidelines encourage schools to promote respect for civil rights, take steps to protect LBGTQ students from violence and discrimination, identify building-level staff members to help with LBGTQ issues, make available age-appropriate LBGTQ books and materials in school libraries or resource centers, and provide professional development on matters of LBGTQ concern.